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Current State Of Our Legislatures: Abuse, accuse & create ruckus
Just before retiring, the Vice President of India and Chairman of Rajya Sabha, M Venkaiah Naidu, called for a people’s movement to influence the conduct of 5,000 MPs, MLAs and MLCs in the law-making bodies for making a difference from the present. Terming it as ‘Mission 5000’, he asserted that such a campaign is necessary to save the parliamentary democracy from losing its sheen and appeal. Strict adherence to Constitutionalism only can ensure real democracy and inclusive growth, he ardently appealed. Alas, whither the standards of discipline, dignity and decorum in the law-making bodies?
During the Amrit Kaal, the NDA government and all other opposition parties should indulge in deep introspection and ask the lawmakers both in Parliament and in state Assemblies as well all public servants to pay attention to task on hand for the next 25 years when India celebrates its 100th anniversary of Independence.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently emphasised on giving top and urgent priority to quality and decency of debates in Parliament and Assemblies, and the spirit of debates in Houses should be ‘Indianness.’
But it is really disgusting to see how disruptions are on the rise in the legislatures and the quality of parliamentary democracy has been declining fast. On Friday, we saw how lack of discipline and, perhaps, lack of proper training for the parliamentarians had led to outburst by Ramesh Bidhuri of BJP who had used unparliamentary language against the Muslim minority. The member used the language of goons and mafia, the AIMIM leaders alleged.
In Andhra Pradesh Assembly, amidst pandemonium over the alleged illegal arrest of Leader of Opposition and former Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, one of the ministers on Friday equated the opposition members with dogs. Some others made similar snide remarks. Recently, we had seen how the ruling party members dragged the name of Leader of Opposition’s wife. As per rules, even mention of a member who is not present in the House is not permitted. But then who cares. Abuse, accuse, and create ruckus is the order of the day.
The difference between the Parliament and the Andhra Pradesh Assembly is that in Lok Sabha, the Speaker was quick enough to expunge the objectionable remarks made by Ramesh Bidhuri from the records and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh apologised to the House, while in AP Assembly nothing of that kind ever happened in the last four and a half years. Even the Speaker had not pulled up any ruling party member while opposition members were suspended even for questioning the government. In fact, there are many occasions when the Speaker himself got angry and made certain uncharitable remarks like “useless fellows,” and was heard saying, “Our party MLAs (YSRCP) come back to your seats.”
Speaker, according to the Constitution, is the custodian of the Parliament or the state Assembly. He or she is expected to be neutral in their comments and in running the house. We have seen how the Speaker of Lok Sabha Om Birla addresses the members as ‘Mananiya Sadasyagan’ (Honourable Members) even when there is pandemonium.
Little before retiring, the Vice President of India and Chairman of Rajya Sabha, M Venkaiah Naidu, called for a people’s movement to influence the conduct of 5,000 MPs, MLAs and MLCs in the law-making bodies for making a difference from the present. Terming it as ‘Mission 5000’, he asserted that such a campaign is necessary to save the parliamentary democracy from losing its sheen and appeal.
The Parliament and the state assemblies had seen great stalwarts who used to call a spade a spade and tear into the government but never did they cross the line of decency and decorum and that is why even the Leader of the House – Chief Ministers in state assemblies and Prime Minister in parliament – used to hear them with rapt attention. The focus used to be on subject not personal attack.
The lawmakers need to be told that Constitution of India emerged further to centuries of monarchy and aristocracy with attendant erosion of basic rights of the people and seeks to ensure governance based on a body of laws that flow from the provisions and the spirit of Constitutions, thereby preventing the arbitrariness and rule by the will and discretion of the governments.
The present scenario is that the spirit of constitution got evaporated and arbitrariness has crept into governance. Our leaders need to understand that the Constitution of India is a profound statement of socio-economic objectives to be realised pursuing the path of participatory democracy.
Venkaiah Naidu rightly emphasised that “It is necessary to give voice to every citizen in governance which is democracy all about and to ensure the benefits of development to all, which is inclusive growth all about. Strict adherence to Constitutionalism only can ensure real democracy and inclusive growth”.
He noted that protests on the floor of the legislative chambers are fine if they don’t breach the dignity and decorum of the House. He said: “Protesting against the omissions and commissions of the governments on the floor of the legislatures is the right of the legislators. But the emotional underpinnings of such protests should not cross the limits of decency and decorum that should mark parliamentary democracy.
But what is happening now is that the opposition parties feel that they must oppose everything and indulge in nit-picking while the ruling party feels that the opposition has no brains and that their views need not be taken into consideration. All ruling parties feel that there is no need for wider stakeholder consultations.
To quote Venkaiah Naidu, “Dysfunctional legislatures prevent the much-desired wider consultations before making of laws and framing of policies. Such disruptions negate the principle of accountability of the executive to the legislatures, thereby promoting the tendency of arbitrariness, which Constitutionalism seeks to checkmate”.
While the Speaker and the leaders of all opposition parties need to ponder over this issue and take urgent corrective measures to ensure the pristine glory of Parliamentary democracy by educating their members, the people who have elected them too should stop viewing their representatives as their masters. They need to behave like awakened citizens to identify the disruptors and question them when they visit their constituencies.
In the absence of this, power has started corrupting the people’s representatives. We are seeing how cases are being foisted against them so that they do not raise their voice. This certainly is not the democracy that was visualised by the founding fathers of the constitution. The citizens should take into consideration the parliamentary performance and conduct of elected representatives while voting in the next elections.
On November 25, 1949 when our Constitution was adopted, Dr B R Ambedkar, its principal architect, searchingly asked, “If we wish to maintain democracy... what must we do?” “...first thing in my judgement we must do”, he said, “is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives”. He said, “When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods.” He remarked that such methods in the context of the availability of constitutional methods “are nothing but the grammar of anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.”
Success, effectiveness and prestige of any institution rests on its orderly functioning and the extent to which it adheres to standards of discipline, dignity and decorum for discharging its activities.
Discipline, dignity and decorum in this sense are foundational norms of any institution. This is particularly so of the parliamentary institutions which embody the will of the people and constitute the fora of democracy to carry out among other activities, the principal task of legislation and scrutiny of the executive. Erosion of discipline and decorum will lead to the erosion of parliamentary institutions, he added.
But, these foundational norms of representative bodies which were always considered sacrosanct and are therefore preserved, protected and defended are now facing a threat of pushing the legislatures into a state of anarchy. Majority of the present lawmakers do not bother about the constitutional methods that are available. They are not even aware about the rules of procedure and conduct of business and the conventions and traditions and means nothing to them.
What we are seeing is grammar of anarchy and abusive language, snide remarks, dragging the names of family members or using most foul language has become the order of the day. It is, therefore, imperative that our representative institutions articulate the theme of order and discipline and script the story of success of our democracy which the ordinary people of this country so vigorously defend for their well-being and empowerment and for the common good of the whole country.
Former Chairman of Rajya Sabha and former President of India K R Narayanan, while speaking at the first ever Conference of Presiding Officers, Leaders of Parties, Whips, Ministers of Parliamentary Affairs, Secretaries and Senior Officers of Parliament and State Legislatures on the theme of discipline and decorum on 23 September 1992, described indiscipline and disorder in the legislative bodies as “Infantile disorders or the measles of the middle-age” which “...are bound to pass, but pass they must, otherwise the system will be in mortal danger”. But even three decades down the lane, the infantile disorders do not seem to pass.
Will the BJP or the I.N.D.I.A, which talks of the need to end the rule of ‘Nafrat ke Saudagar’ and open the ‘Dukan of Mohabbat’, assure that they would strive to bring back the gleaming and glorious days of parliamentary democracy and that they will not get affected by any disturbing phenomenon?